After attending the Wings of Hope for Pancreatic Cancer Research “An Evening of Hope” yearly fundraiser on September 28, 2019, at the invitation of Stacy Ohlsson, I became aware that our friend, Cathy Noon, was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer. This is the cancer that took the life of our Blacktie founder (and Stacy’s mother), Georgia Imhoff…. as well as several other dear friends. Recently, we were informed that one of the courageous pancreatic cancer patients, Pam Hafermann, who spoke at the fundraiser, had passed away.
(And - Just received the sad news that another friend of the organization, Dr. Dominik Wiktor, passed away of the disease.)
After losing both her brother, Victor, and her mother, Blanche, to pancreatic cancer within months of each other, Maureen Shul, former (and founding) Mayor of the City of Castle Pines, felt she needed to turn her grief into something productive that would give her the strength to move forward. In 2012, Shul created her nonprofit “Wings of Hope for Pancreatic Cancer Research” in their honor, which has since raised over a million dollars to fund pancreatic cancer research projects and clinical trials in partnership with the University of Colorado Cancer Center. Maureen and "Wings of Hope", and the team at CU Cancer Center, continue to move mountains and give hope to pancreatic cancer patients. They are on the path to finding cures for this (second deadliest in the U.S.) form of cancer.
Much of the progress has been made because of the funding from Wings of Hope, and the significance of this was recognized at “An Evening of Hope” by the “world-class” Oncology Team from the University of Colorado…. Namely, Marco Del Chiaro, M.D., Sana Karam, M.D., PhD., Wells Messersmith, M.D., and Richard Schulick, M.D.
Needless to say, the determined and dedicated Shul has much to be proud of. She has made sure all donations given to Wings of Hope go directly towards finding a cure for pancreatic cancer. This remarkable woman is on not just a mission, but a crusade, to help patients and their families know there is hope for a cure, when it previously seemed hopeless. We are honored that the “ultra-busy” Maureen Shul took some time out of her “beyond busy” day to answer a few questions.
To support, donate, volunteer, request presentations, please visit: www.wingsofhopepcr.org
When you first started Wings of Hope, what was your greatest challenge? The greatest challenge, having never been involved with nonprofits, was just figuring out the mechanics of it all, legally and procedurally. Sometimes you just have to throw your keys over the wall you want to overcome, and with a lot of time and effort, you find your way through.
With both your mother and brother dying of pancreatic cancer, and knowing how grim the prognosis was at that time; at what point did you know you had to do something to fight back? While I knew I could not continue on with my life as before after such profound losses, starting WINGS OF HOPE was entirely grief driven. I let the grief take me where it took me, and was open to wherever that led. I knew instinctively that I had to do something, and as the grief pushed me further away from things I had thought were important, it became increasingly clear that helping fund the research was the path I was being directed to.
It must be hard when you see pancreatic cancer patients lose their battle, after they have fought so hard to stay alive. Where do you find the strength to keep moving forward? The most difficult aspect of this foundation has been exactly that, getting to know people who are on this journey and after such courageous efforts by them and their loved ones, they pass from this relentless disease. There are times, in those moments, I want nothing more to do with any of this because of it being so horrendously sad and difficult, but then I remember that this is not about me. This is about my brother, my mother, and all those who have suffered through this and are not able to give voice to what needs to be done. So, with a lot of faith, hope and prayer, I put it in the proper perspective and hope I am doing them justice.
What was the defining moment when you knew you were on the right track towards making a difference? In the very first year, 2012, WINGS OF HOPE raised $45,000, which was given to the University of Colorado Cancer Center for their pancreatic cancer research. I was a bit embarrassed giving such a small sum, not realizing in those early years the weight of every dollar as it pertains to research. Years later, now raising close to $200,000 every year, the foundation was able to help bring a clinical trial to the CU Cancer Center through a grant we awarded. I think it was then I realized that it is not so much the dollar amount as much as what those dollars are able to do and accomplish that makes the difference and leads to life altering outcomes. It was the realization then that more effective treatments, clinical trials and even cures all move forward as a result of the research funding that confirmed for me this was the right effort to be involved in.
What’s unique about Wings of Hope if you compare it to other pancreatic cancer organizations? The uniqueness of WINGS OF HOPE is the fact that every dollar raised goes directly toward raising awareness and funding for pancreatic cancer research. There are no salaries, no overhead, no expenses other than event related. Secondly, due to a partnership formalized in 2013 between WINGS OF HOPE and the CU Cancer Center, all the funds raised go to the pancreatic cancer research at the University of Colorado Cancer Center through an annual grant process. Thankfully more people are learning that when it comes to pancreatic cancer treatment and care, the CU Cancer Center is second to none. It is that direct pass through of research funding going directly to the CU Cancer Center that differentiates WINGS OF HOPE from other pancreatic cancer organizations.
How much collaboration is there between your researchers working on a cure for pancreatic cancer and the rest of the cancer research field? Thankfully there has been more and more collaboration between research departments nationwide and even worldwide when it comes to pancreatic cancer. When you first get involved in this world of medical research, you naturally assume everyone is sharing their findings with one another in the effort to find new treatments and cures, but sadly, that is not the case. I have been especially gratified by the collaboration of the CU Cancer Center researchers with other medical institutions, especially involving some of the grants WINGS OF HOPE has awarded.
When someone is diagnosed with pancreatic cancer, how can Wings of Hope help them? WINGS OF HOPE is contacted often in this way, usually by families in a state of shock not knowing what their next step should be. Because of the relationships that have grown these past 8 years with the excellent staff and personnel at the CU Cancer Center Anschutz Medical Campus, I am able to put the families in touch with the right people to help with whatever is needed. At the same time I am also able to assist with their hospice needs, only because I have been a facilitator for Alzheimer’s Caregivers the last 15 years and know pretty well the ins and outs of that process and difficulty. In fact, there are times I realize that much of what I have been involved with in years past, whether being mayor, facilitator of support groups or CEO of two businesses, has all contributed to making the foundation succeed to this point. One more reason that you just have to let it take you where it leads you, and it will all somehow work if you believe strongly enough in what you are doing.
What words of encouragement do you have for someone who has just been given their pancreatic cancer diagnosis? I truly believe that there is always hope. There is always one more opinion to be heard, one more treatment option to be explored, one more clinical trial to investigate, one more day to keep fighting and gathering every bit of information you can. The diagnosis, as horrible and shocking as that is to receive, is not the end.
What can you do to help a family member of someone who just lost their battle with pancreatic cancer? I try with everything in me to give exactly what I wanted and needed and was given to me when my brother passed, and then a few months later, my mother. All you really want is someone’s presence, someone to just be there in full acceptance of what you are feeling and going through. People sometimes have no concept how much that small gesture of being present means to someone whose life is shattered and ripped apart. In all ways, I try to be present and do whatever it is they need to get from one day to the next.
What do you see in the future for the fight against pancreatic cancer? There are tremendous breakthroughs occurring all over the world in the fight against pancreatic cancer, and I believe we are on the verge of seeing some incredible leaps forward when it comes to more effective treatments and most importantly an early diagnostic method. To have an early diagnostic method would help save so many lives, since this disease is not usually diagnosed until the person is already in Stage 4, when treatments and surgery are unavailable.
Besides your total devotion to Wings of Hope and the work you do every day to find a cure, is there something you like to do to just have some fun? I enjoy my life thoroughly, and get great pleasure from hiking or climbing a fourteener, just as I do from taking long walks on the beach when I am at my townhome in Florida, both made pleasurable experiences by doing them with people who never take those gifts for granted.
What is something you still want to do just for yourself…. like travel somewhere special? I sometimes think how wonderful it would be to just escape for a few weeks and do nothing but paint, from morning to night and all the hours in between, just paint. Preferably with the piano nearby.
What is your favorite saying or “Words to Live By”? From my extraordinary parents, who lived their lives to the fullest and never took one day for granted, I suppose the phrase, “Onward and upward” comes to mind most. Whether it was in times of great joy or in the most difficult of circumstances, you just keep pushing onward and try to keep making it all purposeful and meaningful.
What do you want your legacy to be? Not so much a legacy, but we are all here for such a brief moment in time, and to make a difference in someone’s life or in some situation that leaves it better than it was before, is the highest ideal one can strive for.
(Additional Note: There was a wonderful message noted on the "Wings of Hope" website worthy of mentioning: "We come with nothing, we go with nothing; but one great thing we can achieve in our beautiful life is.... a little remembrance in someone's mind and a small place in someone's heart." )